Supernatural in Shakespeare's Plays In the time of William Shakespeare there was a strong belief in the existence of the supernatural. Thus, the supernatural is a
recurring aspect in many of Mr. Shakespeare퉠 plays. In two such
plays, Hamlet and Macbeth, the supernatural is an integral part of
the structure of the plot. It provides a catalyst for action, an
insight into character, and augments the impact of many key scenes.
The supernatural appears to the audience in many varied forms. In
Hamlet there appears perhaps the most notable of the supernatural
forms, the ghost. However, in Macbeth, not only does a ghost appear
but a floating dagger, witches, and prophetic apparitions make
appearances. The role of the supernatural is very important in Hamlet
A ghost, appearing in the form of Hamlet퉠 father, makes
several appearances in the play. It first appears to the watchmen,
Marcellus and Bernardo, along with Horatio near the guardsmens' post.
The ghost says nothing to them and is perceived with fear and
apprehension, 쿔t harrows me with fear and wonder? It is not until
the appearance of Hamlet that the ghost speaks, and only then after
Horatio has expressed his fears about Hamlet following it, 쿥hat if it
tempt you toward the flood, my lord, or to the dreadful summit of the
The conversation between the ghost and Hamlet serves as a
catalyst for Hamlet퉠 later actions and provides insight into Hamlet퉠
character. The information the ghost reveals incites Hamlet into
action against a situation he was already uncomfortable with, and now
even more so. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, 쿟he spirit
that I have seen may be a devil... and perhaps out of my weakness and
my melancholy..abuses me to damn me? and thus an aspect of Hamlet퉠
character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after
the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his
mother퉠 room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to 퀇het?
Hamlet퉠 쿪lmost blunted purpose? Hamlet is now convinced of the
ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it,
쿞peak to her, Hamlet?
In Hamlet, the supernatural is the guiding force behind
Hamlet. The ghost ask Hamlet to seek revenge for the King퉠 death and
Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that
ends in Hamlet퉠 death.
The supernatural occurs four times during the course of
Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the
appearance of Banquo퉠 ghost, in the apparitions with their
prophesies, and in the 쿪ir-drawn?dagger that guides Macbeth towards
Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches
are perhaps the most important. The witches represent Macbeth퉠 evil
ambitions. They are the catalyst which unleash Macbeth퉠 evil
aspirations. Macbeth believes the witches and wishes to know more
about the future so after the banquet he seeks them out at their cave.
He wants to know the answers to his questions regardless of whether
the consequence be violent and destructive to nature. The witches
promise to answer and at Macbeth퉠 choice they add further unnatural
ingredients to the cauldron and call up their masters. This is where
the prophetic apparitions appear. The first apparition is Macbeth퉠
own head (later to be cut off by Macduff) confirming his fears of
Macduff. The second apparition tells Macbeth that he can not be harmed
by no one born of woman. This knowledge gives Macbeth a false sense of
security because he believes that he cannot be harmed, yet Macduff was
not of woman born, his mother was dead and a corpse when Macduff was
born. This leads to Macbeth퉠 downfall. A child with a crown on his
head, the third apparition, represents Malcolm, Duncan퉠 son. This
apparition also gives Macbeth a false sense of security because of the
Birnam Wood prophesy.
The appearance of Banquo퉠 ghost provides insight into
Macbeth퉠 character. It shows the level that Macbeth퉠 mind has
recessed to. When he sees the ghost he reacts with horror and upsets
the guests. Macbeth wonders why murder had taken place many times in
the past before it was prevented by law -쾠tatute purged the gentle
weal? and yet the dead are coming back.
The final form of the supernatural is the 쿪ir-drawn?dagger
which leads Macbeth to his victim. When the dagger appears to him,
Macbeth finally becomes victim to the delusions of his fevered brain.
The dagger points to Duncan퉠 room and appears to be covered in blood.
The dagger buttresses the impact of this key scene in which Macbeth
slays King Duncan.
The supernatural is a recurring aspect in many of the plays by
William Shakespeare. In Hamlet and Macbeth the supernatural is an
integral part of the structure of the plot. In these plays the
supernatural provides a catalyst for action by the characters. It
supplies insight into the major players and it augments the impact of
many key scenes. The supernatural appeals to the audience퉠 curiosity
of the mysterious and thus strengthens their interest.